When it comes to exercising postpartum, we often forget that our bodies have undergone a radical change. By the six-eight week recovery mark, when our doctors advise we reintroduce exercise and movement back into our routines, it's easy to get carried away trying to "get back to normal." What we fail to recognize during this vulnerable time is that the exercise methods that served us pre-baby may actually exacerbate the collateral symptoms of childbirth, making it harder to restore strength, agility, and function.
In this case, I'm talking about postpartum yoga and abdominal wall separation, also known as diastasis recti.
People ask, is postpartum yoga safe? The short answer is, "it depends." If you suffered from separated abdominal muscles during pregnancy, it's vital to modify your moves, decrease your range of motion, and above all, stop when you feel discomfort while practicing yoga or risk worsening your condition.
Keep reading to learn more about postpartum yoga and diastasis recti and the moves to swap out for a healthier, happier practice.
Common postpartum yoga poses to avoid with diastasis recti: full wheel backbends, full cobra, and upward dog
Full wheel backbends, full cobra, and other movements or poses that open the lower rib cage compromise the integrity of the upper abdominal wall. As the ribs splay apart, they tug the upper abdominal muscles, including the rectus abdominis, away from the midline. This places stress on the linea alba, the midline that runs vertically between the two halves of the abdomen. Over time, repeated stress on this tissue can cause it to weaken and thin, compromising core strength and stability while widening the waistline.
In addition to backbends, other chest openers in yoga, even the full expression of upward dog, can inhibit the healing of this connective tissue. I’ve seen fitness professionals separate the upper abdominal wall from performing reverse flies with momentum (thrusting the ribs forward forcefully with each repetition), and professional gymnasts and figure skaters self-induce mild diastasis recti from repeatedly opening the lower ribs and upper abs at the end of each routine. In addition to these activities, alignment and postural tendencies to over-lengthen the front body, letting go of the abdominal muscles and over-recruiting the lower back muscles and hamstrings, can inhibit healing diastasis recti and contribute to symptoms such as low back pain and a persistently poochy appearance of the abdomen. Even sleeping on your stomach can have an impact if you are subtly thrusting your ribs forward and spreading apart your lower rib cage all night long.
The diastasis recti approved postpartum yoga pose: modified cobra
In some cases, simply decreasing the range of motion of your favorite pose or exercise will be sufficient. For example, instead of performing an expansively open upward dog or a full cobra, keep the pose moderate and only go as far as you can while keeping your ribs anchored. Or slow down a reverse fly to control the movement, avoid momentum and keep the ribs anchored in neutral. But sometimes it really feels good to stretch the abdominal muscles and front body. To satisfy that need without the risks associated with a full wheel backbend, I coach clients through a modified cobra to safely stretch the front body without splaying the ribs and upper abs apart. This stretch keeps the ribs anchored and gently lengthens the front body without compressing the spine.
How to perform a modified cobra:
- Begin by lying on your stomach with your forearms on the floor.
- Allow your hips to sink into the floor, anchoring you.
- Engage your arms as you lift your upper body in a diagonal direction both forward and upward out of the hips, keeping the hip bones secure on the floor. This creates gentle, satisfying traction that lengthens the front body in a mild yet effective stretch.
- Keep breathing throughout, and remain mindful to keep your ribs anchored in neutral without thrusting the lower ribs cage open.
We include video coaching in this exercise at the end of many of our core intensive workouts, which you can find in our EMbody Programs’ guided paths and workout libraries. To learn more about how to close diastasis recti and diastasis recti workouts visit every-mother.com.
*This exercise is not recommended during pregnancy.